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Death on Delivery
cover design © 2003 Ardy M. Scott.


Book Excerpt




Death on Delivery
murder mystery

Anne K. Edwards



Jania Yewbanks shut the sweeper off with a nudge of her pink-slippered foot. The knock came again, an urgent summons over the sound of the early autumn rain.

"Whoever that is better have a good reason for bothering me," she muttered on her way to answer it. “Ellie’s quitting like she did--girl never did half of what I told her. Left me with a real mess.”

Patting her blonde hair into place, she peered out the window before answering the door. These days one had to be so careful.

On the stoop, with rain running in broken streamlets over his unprotected head, stood an unfamiliar delivery man. Jania sighed in annoyance. They were always inconvenient in their timing.

Opening the door just a crack, she looked out at him over the safety chain. His colorless hair was plastered over his high forehead. He leered at her through the narrow gap.

"Who're you?" She glared at him.

"Got a package fer Mr. Yewbanks, lady," he told her, his voice sounding as if someone had him by the throat. "Hunnert an' eighty dollars due." Water dripped off the end of his prominent nose, the only notable feature on his otherwise unremarkable face.

"Yes, yes. He left the money for it," she said impatiently and disappeared behind the solid oak door.

With the cash in hand, Jania cautiously removed the latch. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the quick movement of lace curtains next door. Old Nosy was watching the house again.

Disgusted, Jania hastily counted out the bills and handed them to the man.

He shoved his clipboard inside, his sleeve dripping onto her freshly waxed floor.

Exasperated, she scratched her name illegibly on the extended sheet beside the package number.

Giving a toothy grin, he bade her farewell.

Behind the closed door, she turned the package over in her hands. The brown, water-spotted wrapping paper bore no return address or postmark. She toyed with it, wondering at the contents. Ted's idea of a bonus for his secretary was probably something entirely unsuitable. If he had bothered to consult her, she could have advised him. So much money. He had no business buying gifts for the woman. He paid her well for her time.

Thick tape held the heavy paper securely. After some grumbling over a broken nail, Jania cut through the tape with her sewing scissors and stripped away the packing. Inside was a small blue box of imitation leather. The gold clasp opened easily to reveal a pair of pearl earrings nestled in gray crushed velour. "Mable doesn't have pierced ears," Jania muttered to herself, shaking her head at her husband's foolishness.

Jania fondled the pearls admiringly. The slender gold stems were tinted with a greenish glaze. Rubbing didn't remove it.

Must be a protective coating.

At the large hall mirror she fitted the earrings into her dainty lobes. They were lovely. What would a woman with an aged mother to support do with such an extravagant gift?

I'll get Ted to let me keep them, she decided. Mable could do with some new gloves. Jania was certain her husband would agree. He always did.

She admired her reflection proudly. She still had the beauty of her youth that had first attracted Ted. All these years and not a wrinkle or line. A woman had to work at keeping a husband’s eye from roving.

At the thought of her husband, her blue eyes filled with disdain. She made a face as she considered his unfulfilled promises. Empty talk to get her to marry him.

Suddenly, her reflection swam, a strange weariness assailing her. At first she tried to dismiss it. Probably all the bending in this heat. I'd better sit down.

Movement was difficult. Her legs were unusually heavy. She staggered, frightened, into the living room where she stumbled over the vacuum cleaner and fell. Sobbing, she pushed the mahogany coffee table aside and pulled herself up onto the soft blue sofa to lie gasping. After a few seconds she summoned the strength to reach for the telephone. It slipped from her nerveless fingers.

* * *

Ted Yewbanks entered the house, slapping the rain from his coat. He came into the room where Jania lay, approaching the sofa slowly. He stared down at her. Dripping water soaked into the gray carpet.

She reached out with a limp hand. An unintelligible croak escaped her lips as she tried to form his name.

"I see the earrings came," he said smiling as he leaned over her. "Yes, they are beautiful. You just couldn't resist trying them on, my greedy darling. An excellent choice." His voice hardened.

Jania shuddered, exhaling like the last air escaping from a deflating balloon.

He waited to see if she drew another breath and when she didn’t, felt for a pulse. Finding none, he then closed her eyelids. "I'd better call the doctor," he remarked. "It's not every day a man finds his wife dying."

Ted picked up the portable red telephone to punch in the doctor's number. Stroking his thin mustache with long fingers, he waited as the distant ringing echoed over the wires.

The receptionist's cool professionalism greeted him. "Dr. Zimmer's office. May I help you?"

Ted was ready for her. "Get an ambulance over here!" he shouted with panic in his voice. "It's my wife! She's unconscious!" He spoke rapidly, urgently.

As he talked, he studied his reflection in the nearby mirror. Yes, he had the proper amount of fright in his expression.

"Now, now. Calm down." The receptionist assumed the role of practiced superiority. "Who is this?"

He smiled, pleased with his acting. "Ted Yewbanks. Dr. Zimmer has to come at once!" Again, he put urgency into his voice.

"Where do you live?"

"Eight-oh-four Maple Lane. Please hurry!" He hung up. Of course, she'd send the paramedics.

Looking down at his wife's still form, he added, "I guess it was worth ten thousand, Jania. Just think how fast you could've spend that." He shrugged and turned away. "I'm free of you at last.”

Chapter 2

Hannah Clare scratched her graying head, puzzled by the disorganized appearance of the obituaries in Thursday’s issue of the local rag, The Ladies' Daily. The portrait of a pretty blonde should not be at the top of the page. It was a face that not long ago had adorned the society page of Penn Crossing's other paper, The Morning Sun, recently acquired by a publishing firm in nearby Philadelphia.

"Jania Yewbanks, local society matron, aged thirty-three, died Tuesday at her home on Maple Avenue. Cause of death is undetermined. Survived by husband, Theodore Yewbanks, and sister, Leah Wills."

Over a curl of cigarette smoke, Hannah read aloud to her daughter. "That's at least four in the last year," she mused. "Wonder the police don't check them out." She uncrossed her stout legs. "Darn trouble with getting old, one gets stiff so quickly."

"Now, Mama, you're supposed to forget that sort of thing. You promised Danny and me. Remember?" Hurrying to finish folding the wash, Carole Enderby shook her head in perplexity at her mother's odd habit of reading obituaries.

"You'd rather I become a doddering old woman?" Hannah crushed her smoke, smearing the ash on her broad forefinger. She studied Carole's serious face with gray-eyed intensity. "You have no idea what this sitting around is doing to me. In a few months I'll be ready to join your Dad." Already, her retirement palled. Useless idling killed many before their time and she had no intention of being one of them.

"When Papa died, you said it was best. We don't want you to be unhappy, but can't you find something else to do? Something respectable? This snooping into other people's affairs--” Carole let the sentence hang unfinished. She bent to retrieve a dropped toy car.

"Your Dad died in harness, a good detective. I helped him with many cases over the years." Hannah stood up to pace the spacious living room. "And I get so bored. Those women's programs talk as if we're congenital idiots. I retired too soon." She stooped with a grunt to pick up scattered alphabet blocks from the gray carpet to deposit them in the small wooden chest sitting behind the sofa.

Carole wiped the nose of her son who ventured past, pulling a train. Then she disappeared up the carpeted stairs with the freshly folded clothing.

"One of these days you'll know what your old ma means. When Bobbie is grown and Danny can afford a maid to do your work, you'll know," Hannah said to her daughter's retreating back. A sweet girl, but not at all like Lazi or me. More like my sister, Nellie.

Carole resembled Nellie with her blonde hair, oval-shaped face and her trim figure. Hannah smiled at the thought of her younger sister. Both Nellie and Carole contented themselves with building a life around their homes. They were fabulous wives and Carole was a wonderful mother, something Hannah feared she hadn't been.

She grabbed up the telephone and punched in a familiar, but recently unused, number. Patiently, she dropped onto an armchair to wait for an answer.

Her grandson, Bobbie, crawled into her generous lap. "Hanan, sing me?" he asked hopefully.

Softly, she hummed a tune of ancient vintage. "Poor Bobbie. Him gots a cold," she whispered in sympathy.

"Uh-huh," he nodded, big blue eyes serious.

Poor Carole. I know she worries. And it's so useless-- Hannah started as a masculine voice broke into her thoughts.

"Cole Investigators." The tone was clipped, neutral.

"Well, well. Brom Cole. How are you?"

The voice on the other end warmed immediately. "Fine, you old battle-ax. Fine." She could feel his grin. "And you?"

"Can't complain." She hoped he'd take the hint.

He did. "Thought you'd be calling soon." A short burst of laughter came through the receiver. "Retire? You? Hah!"

"Well, I tried, didn't I?" How well he knew her.

He grunted. "Lazlo said you never would. Remember?"

She smiled into the mouthpiece. Brom refused to call her husband anything except Lazlo, his given name. He'd always objected to Lazi as a nickname. He said it sounded too much like lazy.

"Yes. Lazi was right about me." A tear formed over the smile. Hannah wiped it away. Still missed the old boy. Always would. Thirty years and forever, she vowed.

"When can you start? I need someone with your talents."

"I'll see you in the morning."

"Fine," he said, sounding pleased.

Hannah put the white handset on the nearby table. Bobbie slept in her arms. She caressed his head, gently running her hand over his soft blond curls. His fever was down. Getting up slowly so he didn't waken, she put him on the plush green sofa and shook out her gray skirt.

Carole returned. "Where's--” she began.

"Asleep." Hannah motioned toward the sleeping child and lit another cigarette. The smoke snaked upward. "I wish you'd get some decent reading material." She picked up the copy of The Ladies' Daily. "Those sweetsie stories--no guts."

Carole conferred with the ceiling, slim arms akimbo. "Honestly, Mother.”

"Don't you 'mother' me. Listen," Hannah read aloud, pacing, "'Joey, she breathed. I love you, but I want to experience life.' Such slush." She flicked a long ash into a just-emptied tray, then thumbed through the pages rapidly. "A body can't survive without decent literature. And these ads-- 'Beauty treatments at home. In five weeks you'll be ravishing’." She raised her eyes to Carole. "Do you really believe that junk?"

"Now, Mother." Carole seemed to experience difficulty with her self-control. "You know I get the paper to read the articles and cut out recipes."

Hannah continued, "'Lose weight. I lost five dress sizes in six weeks and my husband's in love with me.' Garbage!"

Abruptly, she retreated to the padded wooden rocker, trying to find some readable article in the paper. Bobbie awoke and clambered onto her lap again. Pages of ads rippled past her frowning gaze as she rocked slowly. Not one with any depth. Appeal to the senses, to weaknesses. Like this one. "Are you looking for the perfect gift for a certain someone? Send for our gift brochure today." Encourage laziness, too. Soon women would be too feeble to lift a broom. Angrily, she heaved the paper aside. The local supermarket carried such printed trash. She wouldn't be getting back to work soon enough.

* * *

Hannah tossed the paper aside impatiently. Her room, where she'd gone to puzzle over the death of Jania Yewbanks, resembled London on a foggy day, so thick was the smoke. She rose to open a window, then reached over to the ashtray to kill the lone butt smoldering there. Pacing, she tried to call up from memory other unexplained deaths. This type of thing nagged at her, demanding a solution.

No sense in sitting here, trying to figure it out. She pulled on her gray cloth jacket. I need to get out where I can think.

Stuffing her purse into one of her roomy pockets, she smiled as she remembered how large pockets had saved Lazi and her on one occasion. They'd been trailing a dangerous embezzler who'd killed a hostage to make his getaway. He’d led them on a long chase to a cheap hotel. They’d cornered him in the hall and Lazi had immediately stuck his hand in his pocket. "Stick 'em up," he’d said. To their great surprise and relief, it had worked. Just like an old B movie.

At the foot of the stairs, she called to Carole, "I'm going out. I'll be back soon." And made good her escape before her girl could protest.

The outside heat greeted Hannah with a steamy embrace and immediately her clothes went limp. She stifled an urge to return to the comfort of the air-conditioned house and hurried to the battered old Volkswagen that stood like an aged mount at its curbside rest. The little car’s faded gray shape was just the sort of car an old woman would drive. Few people would think anyone driving such a car a threat.

As usual, the VW balked at starting. After much grinding of gears and cussing on her part, it roared to life with an uneven thronk-clink from the rear. Hannah rolled down the windows to release the pent-up heat, then put the car in motion.

Without really considering her destination, Hannah found her way to Maple Lane, located in a tree-lined suburb where most of the old homes were smugly segregated from the newer by tight, well-shaped hedges. Nice neighborhood. Peaceful. Quiet. Not a place to die without cause.

Slowing to a crawl, she searched for the place where Jania Yewbanks might have lived. In some yards, children played, pausing to shout or racing in seeming disarray. In others, women lounged in the late afternoon sun, obviously trying to darken their late-season tans.

From the corner of Maple Lane and South Chestnut Street, Hannah spotted a house with the closed, introspective air of mourning. It sat primly behind a low border of severely trimmed rosebushes, gold drapes drawn against prying eyes.

Hannah eased her little car to the curb beside what looked like a section of recently poured sidewalk. She let the motor idle a moment, then cut it off with a sigh, readying herself for a long, hot wait. Wait? For what? Who? She had no idea.

Twisting like a pretzel, she yanked her clinging skirt free of her legs and struggled out of her jacket. Perspiration dribbled down her back, gluing her blouse to the plastic seatcover. At times like this, she wished for a larger car or a smaller self.

Out of the corner of her eye, Hannah saw someone at a window of the white house next door. The figure watched with a certain determination. Proverbial nosy neighbor who might know something. They usually did.

Abruptly, the person vanished behind a swish of white curtain and Hannah turned her attention back to the newer house. No sign of movement within and no telling when anyone would show up. Undecided as to how long she should continue her vigil, she tapped her fingers on the steering wheel impatiently, aware of a growing discomfort in her backside. She wriggled, seeking comfort, the car bouncing.

A large, flashily-chromed, blue automobile rolled into the driveway. Must be the new widower, coming home from a hard day at the office. Then, she wondered why she was so sarcastic toward the unknown man.

The driver got out, retrieved a laptop computer from the rear seat and slammed the door. He paused to wipe unseen dust from the hood.

Hannah made hasty mental notes. Tall, getting a paunch. Desk jock. His tan probably came from a lamp. He didn't look like the athletic type. In a hurry to get inside to his air conditioner.

As the door closed behind him, she switched the ignition on. Once more, the little gray car balked before starting. As she checked the traffic, Hannah saw a plump female figure exit the white house next door. A little green hat bobbled precariously as the woman scuttled away. A twinge of pity for her flickered through Hannah's thoughts. That walk meant fear, a fear that one could never quite conquer.

She pulled onto the street, passing the woman who plodded along, head bowed. Once she was out of sight, she was out of mind. Hannah was already focused on how the death of Mrs. Yewbanks might fit into the pattern of unexplained deaths.

* * *

Relieved to be out of the range of Old Nosy next door, Ted Yewbanks hurriedly flipped the air conditioner switch to the on position. The house was too hot. Stuffy. He set his laptop on the dainty hall table, then turned to scan the living room. How wonderful was the silence. No shrill “Where have you been?” to greet him.

He sneezed. Dust! Running a speculative finger over the polished surface of the table, he found grit. Those street repairmen...

Ted shook his head in disgust. At her worst, Jania had kept a very clean house. He hoped the woman sent by the employment agency would do as well and those hardhats would finish their work soon. Their presence didn’t improve the neighborhood.

Sliding the drapes aside to let in the sunlight, he was just in time to see Freda Wartel plodding past on some errand. Repulsed, he stepped out of sight. Of all the people to have living next door, she was the least desirable.

He called her Old Nosy because she wasn’t easy to avoid. She had an old maid’s crush on him and would probably get ideas with his wife out of the way. The very idea gave him the shivers. As if...

He shuddered, laughing. It was idiotic to think such a woman could be a threat to his new-found freedom. What could she possibly say or do that would interest him? Or any man? Old Nosy was a sad bag of bones who’d end her days alone.

She’d be bound to make a nuisance of herself though, finding any number of excuses to come knocking on his door as she had when Jania was alive. And now... He winced at the prospect.

He couldn’t recall how often he'd caught her eyeing him with a cow-like expression. Her worshipful glances made his stomach turn over. And Jania had laughed at him about it. God, how she'd laughed.

For a moment, only a moment, that laughter seemed to echo in the silent rooms. Had her ghost returned? He paused, listening. Nothing! She was gone, her greedy soul departed for a place where she’d find few luxuries.

"Your jewels and furs will be sold, m'dear. The rest I'll give to the poor. For a tax break, of course. I doubt they'll wear the clothes you spent so much of my hard-earned money on," he spoke aloud. How pleasant was the knowledge that his income was now his own.

A flush of pleasure surged over him. Soon there’d be nothing to remind him of the woman who had stolen so many years of his life. Jania’s clothes were already bagged, waiting to be given away. She had filled her closets with the trendiest, most expensive styles, like a teenager copying television prostitutes. As a matter of fact, he was convinced that Jania had done more than copy their style in her efforts to hang onto her fading youth.

Ted smiled grimly. He'd done them both a favor, freeing her from her fear of aging and freeing himself of her. She'd been too demanding, too domineering, and too damned costly.

They might have divorced, but it would have been nasty. Jania would have taken everything and kept taking. Her greed had become well developed through the years of their marriage.

He cursed her under his breath. She’d been at such pains to conceal her true nature when they were dating. Those delicious meals at her home had been prepared by her aunt, but Jania had pretended to be the cook. She never let him get wise to the game until too late. She couldn’t boil water without burning it.

Anger threatened to overwhelm him. He'd actually come to love her or rather, the facade she'd worn to fool him. After the wedding, he'd come to detest the very sight of her. Why had he taken so long to find a solution to his dilemma?

He shook off the mood. She was no longer a part of his life. Once the funeral was over, the house could be sold without exciting comment. He hated having to endure even this short wait.

The telephone rang, startling him. Annoyed, he reached for it. "Yes?" he queried crisply into the blood-red mouthpiece. Another example of Jania's terrible taste.

The caller's voice had the personality of a block of wood. "This is the Hobart Mission Store. I had a message to call this number."

"Yes. I called to ask about your pickups. I have some women's clothing for you."

The voice wheezed asthmatically, "Pickups are tomorrow. What's the address?"

"Eight-oh-four Maple. I'll set the bags on the curb."

"Okay," it wheezed again, adding, "Thank you, sir."

He put the phone down. That was that.

His sister, Amelie, had gladly bagged Jania’s clothes. She'd sent the furs into storage to await appraisal and sale. Ted smiled, mentally calculating their worth.

The costly collection of jewelry, including Jania's wedding set, was stored in his safe. She'd be buried with a simple gold band. He wasn't putting three thousand dollars in the ground.

Things were going very well. He'd played the grief-stricken husband while Amelie had fronted for him and made the funeral arrangements. She had seen that all proprieties were met without overspending on ostentation.

Jania would have hated everything about her funeral. She lay in state in a medium-quality, oak box with padded satin lining, wearing her one tailored suit, blue and simply cut. The beautician put her hair in a bun and using light makeup, had made her look like an old woman. Of course, Jania was also wearing his last gift, the pearl earrings. She'd be buried as she'd never lived, inexpensively and with decorum.

How many of her men friends would put in an appearance? Probably, none. Jania had, in truth, been a very dull woman.

Ted smiled. He was well rid of her.

Unlocking the study door, he entered the room which had long been his haven, a refuge from Jania. In spite of her arguments, he’d never given her a key and had done any needed cleaning himself. This was the only place in the house where he’d felt completely at ease, but now its stale atmosphere depressed him. He shrugged. It didn’t matter. He no longer needed the security it had once offered.

Ted sneezed again. Dust on everything. Out of habit, he took an old jersey from the top of a bookcase and began to wipe away the dust. As with his wife, the new cleaning lady wouldn’t be doing this room.

He ran the cloth over the battered oak desk and old fashioned bookcases with glass doors and smiled. He’d chosen them to annoy Jania. And they had served their purpose well.

Hesitating, he considered the brown chair. In its baggy embrace he'd found solace during the many long nights of his marriage. The sagging cushions were shaped to his body. Finally, he shook his head. Time to let go of the past.

Ted mentally thumbed his nose at his dead wife and took a seat at the old desk. Rifling through the papers in the deep bottom drawer, he drew out Jania’s life-insurance policy. With its double indemnity clause, this policy brought the total he’d receive to three hundred thousand. How she’d fussed at the extra expense when he’d told her about it. The larger policy in his name had been understandable, she’d said. A man had to provide for his wife. But she hadn’t seen any need for such a large amount on herself. Plainly, she’d expected to outlive him.

He toyed with his mustache thoughtfully. From outside came the sound of a car motor chattering in protest. Funny how such a noise should bother him. Fancying a chill passing up his spine, he said, "Nerves," and continued with his pleasant contemplation.

* * *

Freda Wartel took a sip of herbal tea and sighed deeply. She wiped beaded perspiration from her forehead and looked out the dirt-speckled window toward the house next door with its neat yard and closely-trimmed rose bushes. The place had taken on an uninhabited appearance since Jania’s death three days ago.

Indeed, it did seem like no one lived there any more. She’d seen Mr. Yewbanks coming and going hurriedly, as if he couldn’t bear to remain for any length of time. The house must feel so empty when he was alone. Freda pitied him for that, but contrarily felt he was lucky to be free of an unpleasant woman.

Jania Yewbanks had been like Aunt Lucy, self centered and demanding. Freda frowned at the intrusion of her aunt into her thoughts and found herself envying her neighbor. Mr. Yewbanks would one day appreciate his freedom after he recovered from his grief.

If I could talk to him for a few minutes--just to be near him. The press of longing created an ache in her heart. Any excuse would serve if she could see him, no matter how briefly. Her hunger for him fed on those all-too-brief occasions when they met.

She sighed in disappointment. When Jania was alive, it had been easier to find some excuse to pay a visit. Errands for Aunt Lucy had always been handy. The old invalid liked knowing everything about everybody. Freda had always timed her visits a few minutes after Mr. Yewbanks came home from work.

Yielding her fruitless vigil, Freda turned to the latest copy of The Ladies' Daily for distraction. True, the paper was trash, but she enjoyed the gossip columns. Out of habit, she bought it when doing the Thursday marketing. Dropping her soft backside onto a rickety wooden chair, she sipped her cooling tea while scanning the advertisements.

Stray shafts of heated air coming from the open window, flipped the paper, directing her gaze to an ad in the upper corner of the page. "That same ad's been in the last several issues," she muttered. The bold black typeface set in fancy blocking drew the eye.

"Are you looking for a gift for a special someone? Let us help. We are not an ordinary shopping service, but specialize in unique gifts for unique needs. Send for our brochure today. Be sure to enclose your return address and telephone number."

Aunt Lucy was impossible to please. I wish I could find something for the old woman's birthday that she wouldn't mumble about and make me feel like a fool for trying. Freda stared at the page in idle speculation, tapping the ad with a work-worn finger. And, of course, there was Clarence. Her little mouth tightened sourly at the thought of her cousin. But it wouldn't cost anything to send for the brochure. She finished the tea and reread the ad.

The dishes would wait. Taking the paper into her small bedroom situated off the kitchen, she settled onto the lumpy chair before her vanity to fill out a postcard. The flecked glass of the mirror reflected her image spottily. Ruefully, she wished she could afford to replace it before the silvered backing peeled off completely, then dismissed the idea. Money was too scarce.

Adjusting her glasses, Freda peered closely at the pouches under her nearsighted eyes and the bitter, turned-down lines around her mouth. The freckles of youth were fast becoming age spots. It was the face of an unhappy woman whose prime was nearly passed. She'd spent her life in servitude, unwanted for any other purpose.

For a few moments she sat immersed in self pity, hating who she was, wishing she was anyone else. Since that would never happen, she was stuck with her present lot in life. Sadly accepting, she affixed a stamp to the card and got to her feet. Nothing done for her two relatives ever drew a kind word, but maybe a gift for the old woman would lessen her hatefulness.

Freda took her feathered hat from the shelf. It showed age, the green feathers brittle and dry. Sighing with dissatisfaction, she set it on her fluffy, gray-streaked hair, giving it a pat into place, then grabbed up her purse.

Her aunt's shrill voice stopped her at the front door. "Freda! Where are you going?"

"For a walk, Aunt Lucy. I'll be back in an hour."

"Pick up a carton of cigarettes for Clarence." Her aunt expected ready obedience.

Clarence! Lazy slug. He spends the day in bed while I'm expected to run errands for him.

Lacking the courage to refuse, she went glumly to do her aunt's bidding. Cousin Clarence was the old woman's favorite. He did nothing while she had to earn her keep. Freda slammed the door knowing she'd hear about it upon her return.

Automatically, she looked toward the setting sun. It would soon be dark. Horrid time to be outside.

She plodded down the narrow walk, muttering to herself, "I'd give anything to be free of them. My monthly check just isn't enough for my own place. To live with Moses, without them, how wonderful that would be." She dreamed of a small apartment for her and her cat.

How often she had tried to work out a plan to escape the misery that sucked at her, seeking to pull her under. As always, there seemed to be no answer.

The mailbox sat on the corner, its handle sticky with child-applied chocolate. "People shouldn't let their children handle things," she grumbled and dropped the card inside, then dug a tissue from her purse to wipe the goo from her hand.

A passerby, overhearing, gave her a cold stare before hurrying on.

Dejectedly, Freda started for home, then remembered the cigarettes. She crossed at the corner to avoid standing water dammed by piled trash. The small drugstore's old-fashioned front never failed to remind Freda of a lost childhood. Her father had been a druggist.

Not a sentimental soul, she didn’t look back with longing. No sense in that. She only had a past with no future. As she stepped onto the curb, a teen-driven car flew by, spraying her with dirty water from a puddle. Mournfully, she surveyed the damage. After an unsuccessful attempt to brush the mud from her stained skirt, she entered the drugstore still flicking the fabric back and forth to dry it.

The store was crowded with its usual after-school business. A tall, bespectacled youth jostled her. "’Scuse me, ma'am," he apologized automatically.

She felt his indifference.

Sadly, she wondered why people looked right through her.

The dark-browed clerk waited on two other customers before acknowledging her with a curt nod. "Can I help you?" His eyes traveled to the others in line behind her.

"A carton of Sacres, please. No filters." She hoped he didn't have them in stock.

He reached up to a shelf and brought down a gold-trimmed, green box. With ill suppressed annoyance, she handed over the money. Clarence would never repay her.

It was near dark when she reached home. Where had the day gone? Nervously, she hurried inside. Being out after nightfall was something she dreaded. It felt as if something horrible lurked in the blackness, waiting.

Chapter 3

Brom Cole ran a handkerchief over his sweaty face and stuffed it into his pocket. The sixth floor office was already an oven because leftover summer heat had worked the air conditioner to death. He had opened the windows, but the thick morning air, rising from the street below, gave no relief. A hastily-purchased fan laboring busily on the other sill, fluttering weighted papers, contributed nothing to comfort. Brom dropped the thick folder he’d been perusing on the corner of his cluttered desk when Hannah Clare bustled in. He laughed softly to hear her mumbling to herself, something she did when fussed.

"Don't know why I wear this thing. Especially in this heat," she grumbled, shrugging out of her limp, gray linen jacket.

Draping it over the chair back, she met Brom's grinning face with a smile. "I'll be glad to get back to work. Things are getting pretty hairy with all the sitting I’ve been doing." She accepted the offered cigarette and parked herself on the sturdy metal chair by his battered old desk. She raised an eyebrow behind the smoke screen. "Place needs a paint job. That green is still terrible."

He ignored her comments on the color of the walls. "Carole wants you to be the adoring granny, eh?"

Hannah nodded gravely, her short salt-and-pepper hair flipping over her eyes. She pushed the strands aside. "It's pretty bad. Nothing on TV but those endless suds shows all afternoon. Gad! Are they awful. But I love the time with Bobbie."

"I can imagine." He leaned back in his chair, stretching cramped arms above his head, using the time to study her. "What do you have in mind?"

The difference was amazing. The last time they'd seen each other, five months prior, she'd been worn out, retreating from life. Lazlo's sudden death had deprived her existence of meaning. Rest and a change had worked wonders. The lines around her clear gray eyes were a little deeper, her hair perhaps a trifle grayer, but she was definitely ready to return.

"How's your caseload?" Smoke lazily circled her head in ever-widening arcs. She shifted her weight and crossed her legs, staring at them with a frown. "Those stockings wrinkled and that salesgirl told me they wouldn't," she muttered.

He suppressed a smile at her grousing. "We have several things in the works. Charlie's following an unfaithful husband. Mo's looking into a suspected arson. And I'm still recuperating from that bullet." Unconsciously, he massaged his bandaged shoulder. Still hurt abominably.

"Five weeks down and another three to go?" she queried, watching him.

Brom knew she'd seen the lines etched below his eyes. "About that." He rubbed his jaw, wearily noting he needed another shave. "How would you like to be a housekeeper for a bit?"

"What's the job?" Her crushed smoke added to the load in an already over-filled ashtray.

"Have you kept your habit of reading obits?"

She nodded. "Yes, I like to keep up."

"Jania Pierce Yewbanks?"

"Unknown causes, wasn't it?"

"So the coroner said." He tilted his chair back to rest his long legs on the desk and looked out his office window to the empty offices in the building next door. The time to move the agency was coming. "But her sister doesn't think the cause is so unknown. Mrs. Wills says the husband killed her. I'm reluctant to take the case, but she's an acquaintance of my wife." Laura had been very insistent that the agency handle the matter.

"Method and motive?" Hannah asked.

"No method. Motive, easy. Her tastes were too expensive and she spent money faster than the husband could make it. There is a policy on her for a hundred fifty thousand. Double indemnity."

"Not an unusual motive." Hannah lit another cigarette, flicking the match against her yellowed thumbnail. "Can't anyone do anything original?"

Brom grinned at her. Hannah was like a man in many of her habits. Twenty-four years he'd known her. Lazlo and she had started him in the business. "The widower needs a housekeeper. Their part-time maid quit earlier in the summer. We'll start there."

"And I hate housekeeping. Well, the better to see him." She pushed herself free of the chair.

"The sister provided me with a reference from a friend of hers and my old Aunt Alice said she'd back us up with one other." He handed her an envelope. "They're made out on Helga Tivers."

"Client came prepared."

He nodded. "Had to. She wants it done fast. I was sending Myrt, but she got the flu.” He got to his feet, giving an awkward bow. “You're the answer to my prayers."

Hannah made a face at him and pulled on her jacket. "Which agency did he register with?"

"I called around using the secretary-forgot-to-add-something routine. Whitmer's Domestics."

"Domestic--me? Hah!" She struck an attitude and closed the door with a grand sweep.

Musing over his luck at her return, Brom fumbled through the pile of papers, wishing he was doing field work. With Hannah's assistance it might just be possible to get the agency on its feet. But he was loath to use her on this case.

If it weren't for Laura... He shook his head, worried.

* * *

Breakfast had been a slow, tense affair. Relieved to have it finished, Freda rose to clear the dishes. "Hurry up!" she snapped at Clarence who hid his balding head behind his newspaper. "I have to get my work done." She waited, plate poised in one hand. "Don't forget you owe me for those cigarettes."

He looked up at her, mild astonishment registering on his plump face. "Why, my dear cuz, as soon as Auntie gives me my allowance, of course, I'll pay for the smokes." Then he hoisted the paper between them.

She finished gathering the mismatched stainless service in silence. As usual, he'd shown contempt for her. If only I dared say what I think. He won't pay me. And later he'll want money for cards. Wonder what would happen if I told Aunt Lucy about his gambling? But she cringed from such a confrontation. The old woman might not believe her.

Clarence should be more like Mr. Yewbanks. He doesn't gamble. Jania told me once that he never takes chances. He's a real gentleman.

Freda grabbed up the cup, bumping his paper. "Watch it, cuz!" he warned sharply, thin mustache quivering indignantly.

"Shut up!" Her irritation broke through. "Read that trash in the other room."

"My, My," he mocked, amused. "We're a bit edgy this morning, aren't we?" He dared her to further imprudence that he could tattle to their aunt. Stretching luxuriously, he worked his shoulders under the silky stuff of his pale blue shirt and headed for the living room.

In the face of his taunting, her temper shriveled, withdrawing into its shell. Deflated, she ran water into the scratched sink to wash the dishes.

The sound of a small bell clattering madly, commanding, interrupted her. Wiping her hands, Freda hurried to answer the summons.

As she passed Clarence, he smirked knowingly. They both knew the noise meant Aunt Lucy was in a foul mood.

Entering the stuffy, darkened bedroom where her aunt lay, Freda mentally strengthened the walls of her defenses.

"What took you so long?" Lucy demanded. "I want my drapes opened. It's like an oven in here. Get rid of that tray. The eggs were terrible. Can't you do a simple task like poaching an egg? The doctor says I'm not to be aggravated." Her brown eyes snapped over her litany of complaints.

Obediently, Freda pulled the worn draperies aside, their plum-colored fabric warm to the touch from the sun. Light flooded in, showing up the threadbare red carpet. Through the window, she saw a light tan delivery van coming around the corner.

"Freda!" Lucy grew impatient. "Stop that gaping!"

Bowing her head, Freda strained to keep her lips from trembling. Aunt Lucy always addressed her with that same tone of dislike. Her hands shook as she picked up the breakfast tray making the glassware rattle.

"Put that down. Fix my pillows. Then you can do my hair. I can't have Arthur or Clarence seeing me like this." The invalid's lined face twisted into a malicious smile.

"I didn't know Arthur was coming," Freda broke her silence. She set the tray aside to fluff the pillows.

"I'm changing my will again." Lucy chuckled. "Worried? You very well should be. You've been very slovenly about your duties of late. Clarence tells me there's dust on the piano." She seemed to take great pleasure in Freda's unhappiness.

"But I dust it every day. The dirt comes from the street. There aren’t any screens on those windows," Freda protested feebly, picking up the brush.

"Then dust more often," the old woman retorted.

Freda blinked back tears, looking away. When she had her emotions under control, she turned and saw her aunt watching her, wearing a very satisfied smile.

"Who was the fat woman watching the Yewbanks house yesterday?" Lucy asked, leaning forward and bending her head so Freda could brush her long white hair.

Freda hesitated. "I don't know. She didn't stay long."

Lucy sniffed audibly. "You don't know much."

Freda’s hand shook, catching the brush on a snarl.

"Ouch! You clumsy witch." Her aunt shoved her hand away and grabbed the brush. "Get out! I'll do it myself."

Sniffling, Freda seized the tray and fled through the door as Clarence made his entrance. He uttered a soft oath of surprise as they collided. Weeping, she rushed passed him toward the the kitchen to drop the tray carelessly on the table, then fled into the security of her room to suffer alone.

* * *

Hannah Clare eyed the double doors leading to Whitmers Domestics. The once brass-plated knobs no longer had any brass, the dull gray base metal beneath exposed from years of use. Scratches covered the old lacquered wood, the kick-plates were missing. The lettered glass panels were chipped and cracked. It was about the poorest place she’d seen in years.

She pushed one of the doors aside and stepped into the shabby office where a skinny blonde behind the reception desk eyed her dully. The girl flipped the page of her calendar to show Friday, then pulled the strap of her green halter up onto her shoulder. Behind her, an air conditioner labored in the window, vainly trying to cool air redolent of stale cigarette smoke. A cracked plastic nameplate on the desk said the girl was Rose Miller.

The receptionist crushed a butt that smoldered in the ashtray on her desk. “Can I help you?” she asked with a marked lack of interest.

"I come to apply for work." Hannah adopted what she hoped sounded like a not-too-educated voice.

“Have a seat.” Rose indicated the chair beside her desk with a limp flick of her fingers.

Hannah bobbled her head as if accustomed to being told what to do. As she reached the desk, her heel slid into a hole in the worn green carpeting. She grabbed the edge of the desk and made a show of lowering herself carefully onto the chair.

Rose took down some preliminary information on a small card, then fished a set of yellowed forms from a desk drawer. "Will you please fill out this application?" She handed the papers to Hannah and pointed to a row of four metal chairs with peeling green vinyl seats along the wall. “Use one of those chairs.” She lowered her attention back to the opened magazine lying on the desk.

With unwonted meekness at the abrupt dismissal, Hannah picked up the papers and slowly got to her feet. A small wave of pity for the girl passed through her thoughts. Poor critter had already accepted the fact that this job was the best she’d ever do in life.

Hannah chose the second chair, again arranging herself with much shifting and rustling. She put the packet of papers on her lap and rummaged through her oversized purse for a pen. Unfolding the first form, she began filling out the yellowing forms. The agency must operate on a shoestring, she decided with a mental shrug at Yewbanks having chosen such a poor place to employ a housekeeper.

Shifting her weight, Hannah made the chair squeak audibly.

Rose raised her head and stared at her for a moment, lit a cigarette, and looked back to her magazine.

Lowering her head so the blonde wouldn’t see her self-congratulatory smile at her success in establishing the character of Helga Tivers, Hannah bent over the forms again.

She printed carefully, making the letters uneven as if done by a child. After several minutes, she clambered to her feet and took the form to the receptionist.

Smashing her cigarette out in the overflowing ashtray, Rose kept Hannah standing while she gave the forms a quick examination, then looked up at her. "You're looking for a position as housekeeper? Fee paid?"

Nodding, Hannah said, "I like to work on the north side of town. I live out there."

Giving her the lip-lifting smile that closely resembled a sneer, the girl took a draw on her cigarette. "Let me see." She blew smoke while thumbing through a small stack of cards. "Here's one. Mrs. Mary Nagatkis wants a daily. Have you got a car?"

Hannah nodded again. "But I like to work for gentlemen. They're nicer'n ladies." Place is definitely bad off. No computer. Behind the times. Probably fold within the year.

The clerk wrinkled her nose. It had the effect of drawing her large upper lip back to expose yellowed teeth. With an aggrieved air, she said, "I have two positions like you want. One is a widower. Very recent. The other is a bachelor."

"I'd like to interview for them jobs." Hannah kept to Helga’s identity.

This gal probably thinks I'm looking to catch a husband. Hopefully, one of the men is Mr. Yewbanks. If not, I'll have to keep trying until his name comes up. Probably won't take long. The agency can't have that many clients.

"Take a seat over there, please. I have to call and set up the interviews," the girl said.

Hannah returned to her seat along the wall and watched placidly as the calls were placed. Rose grimaced a smile at her.

Doesn't care much for people. In the wrong line of work, I suspect, Hannah thought.

The beat-up door groaned inward as a parcel deliveryman pushed his way into the office. He leered at them and dropped the boxes he carried on a chair before placing the smudged signature page in front of the blonde.

Hannah watched him indirectly. He didn't move like a man who had spent his life lifting large, heavy packages. His hands were scarred with yellowish marks. Nicotine? Acid? His too-broad smile stopped short of his crafty brown eyes as he rapidly scanned the office.

His smile narrowed as he met Hannah’s openly interested gaze.

The clerk broke in on Hannah’s musings. "Mrs. Tibbers?" She muddled the name given on the forms.

The deliveryman departed.

"Tivers," Hannah corrected Rose. "Just like it’s spelled."

"Oh, sorry," she said indifferently. "The widower, Mr. Yewbanks, said for you to report to his house at two o'clock this afternoon. His sister, a Mrs. Long, will talk to you. The other man won't be home this evening. I'll call you when I get in touch with him. After Mrs. Long talks to you, she'll call me and I’ll call you."

Hannah took her dismissal gratefully, tugging her damp skirt down. As soon as she was outside, she lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply. After a few puffs, she felt more her old self and took the stairs down to the street. Time enough to get Bobbie a few things before that blasted interview.





Author Bio

Anne K. Edwards writes what she reads--mysteries. Death on Delivery is her second book, the first in the Hannah Clare series. Anne lives on a small farm in southern Pennsylvania with several cats and horses. Her interests other than reading and writing are meeting new people, traveling and talking to other authors.

Anne is a member of and reviews books for and Reader to Reader.

Visit Anne's web site.




Death on Delivery Copyright © 2001. Anne K. Edwards. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.



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"...The author's true understanding of human nature and our innate propensity for both good and evil stands out in Death on Delivery. We are allowed to see into each character's soul and discover their frailties, vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

"...I enjoyed the tone of this mystery as well. This is not your serious, hard-core police work novel. There is a perfect mix of humor and intensity throughout. You will find yourself smiling at Hannah's grumblings and smirking at Freda's passionate musings about her handsome and mysterious neighbor, Ted. Yet your shoulders will tense when the chips are down and it looks like the good guys will never win. This book is hard to put down -- an immensely satisfying read."
Reviewed by Patricia Denehy © 2007 for
Curled Up With A Good Book.

Hannah Clare is a middle-aged, retired private investigator. She is currently living with her married daughter, son-in-law and one grandson. She retired due to the death of her husband when she found it impossible to continue running their private investigation business or to continue living in the house they had shared for so many happy years. Now, however, Hannah is regaining an interest in life and finds her inquisitive nature beginning to surface again. She has the habit of daily reading obituaries and wonders why lately there seems to be so many deaths from natural, but unexplained causes. When she reads about the most recent death, a woman named Jania Yewbanks, she decides to contact Brom Cole. Hannah and Lazi had hired Brom many years ago to work for their PI firm. When Lazi died and Hannah decided to sell the business, Brom bought it. So, when Hannah stops by to see Brom he knows she if finally ready to get back to work. Hannah is assigned the case of Jania Yewbanks. It seems that Jania's sister hired Cole's PI firm because she believes that somehow Jania's husband murdered her. There doesn't seem to be any real clues to follow but lots of unrelated pieces of information. Hannah is a true professional and continues to follow her instincts until her own life is in jeopardy.

The author has presented a very complex plot that is not overwhelming, but instead it is quite stimulating. Human nature, at its most selfish point, is exposed in the unraveling of the story. In subtle ways it asks, "What are you capable of doing if you thought no one would find out?" The author did an excellent job of presenting Hannah as a real person. Though she is middle-aged and fat that doesn't mean she can't do the job. In fact, her mind is sharper now than ever and it is the mind that is the most important tool in any investigation. Her physical appearance at this point in her life, only add to her ability to "blend-in" and seem non-threatening. Make no mistake though, she is a professional, and years of training and experience, plus the contacts gained over a lifetime only add to the credibility of the story.
Reviewed by Barbara Wright for Murder and Mayhem Bookclub.

...Anne K Edward’s mystery “Death on Delivery” is anything but hardboiled. It is, however, a good story. A more traditional approach to the mystery, it takes a clever death and lets the reader unwrap the puzzle one piece at a time. Taking place in a largely affluent neighbourhood, its characters are middle-to-old-aged “respectable” people. And yet, despite all of this, it manages to avoid the worst of the cosy clichés rather admirably. Much of this is down to the intriguingly sympathetic central character, Hannah Clare.

Hannah Clare should be a Miss Marple clone. She’s an old woman with uncanny instincts and an absolute sense of moral justice. But unlike Miss Marple and the millions of other clones, she feels comfortingly human, something many writers attempting this kind of story forget. She worries about her grandchildren, fights with her smoking habit and keeps reminding herself that getting old is no reason for putting on weight. She’s grouchy, yet tender. She’s the kind of gran we’d all like; tough yet caring and flawed in a very human way.

...this is a fairly whimsical - if a story about death by poison can be described as whimsical! - and entertaining mystery in the best tradition of Christie and her ilk. With a central character as engaging as Hannah Clare, the grandmother detective, it is a story I’m extremely glad to have read and one I would absolutely recommend if you’re looking for a well written, clever little mystery. Unless, of course, you’re a devout member of the church of the hardboiled. If you are then I very much doubt anything I can say will persuade you take it down a gear and take a rather more gentle approach to the mystery genre.
Reviewed by Russel D McLean for Crime Scene Scotland.

Jania Yewbanks, a thirty-three year-old, upper middleclass housewife, pays for a hand-delivered package at her home. Jealous that the package is a gift for her successful husband's business secretary, Jania can't resist viewing the contents, or trying on the pearl earrings. Little does she know that the posts on the pierced earrings are coated with a poison for which there is no antidote. As Jania lies dying, her husband, Theodore (Ted), arrives home and calls a local physician for emergency assistance. Jania dies on the way to the hospital and her death is ruled "Natural Causes" by the coroner.

New widower, Ted, is thrilled to be the beneficiary of a double-indemnity insurance policy that will make him $300,000.00 richer. Ted would be a lot happier if Freda Wartel did not pester him, and if he had someone to clean his house on a regular basis. But he certainly wouldn't consider Freda ("Old Nosy," as he calls the next-door-neighbor) for the housekeeping position. So Ted begins seeking a maid.

Boredom during retirement, while living with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, has widowed Hannah Clare wishing for some excitement in her life. Jania Yewbanks' death - along with previous similar deaths - entices Hannah back to investigative work with late husband's partner, Brom Cole, owner of "Cole Investigators". So Private Investigator, Hannah Clare, takes on the assignment of filling Ted's domestic position as housemaid, "Helga Tivers." Working undercover, Hannah seeks to prove Ted murdered his wife.

Hannah meets Freda, the spinster who lives with an invalid aunt and a gambling cousin. She learns that Freda is subjected to taunts and snide remarks from the unappreciative relatives, and that Freda is infatuated with Ted. But Hannah doesn't realize how deep the infatuation goes, nor does she realize that Freda and her family's lives are in danger, as is her own.

Anne K. Edwards presents an assortment of in-depth characters and intriguing subplots in Death on Delivery. ...[the] characters seem like real individuals who may be known personally. ...the ending winds up being a wonderful twist and an exceptional surprise.

...Death on Delivery is a pleasant change from gory thriller mysteries. I recommend "Death on Delivery" to readers who enjoyed the television series "Murder She Wrote," as the novel reminds me of an expanded version of an episode, only with better characterization.
Reviewed by Patricia Spork, author of Sorrow's Verse for ebook Reviews Weekly.

Jania Yewbanks didn't know when she accepted the delivery man's package she was signing for her death as well. Hannah Clare reads Jania's obituary in The Ladies Daily. She notices there have been several other deaths similar to Jania's, all unexpected and unexplained. Her sharp mind is intrigued and Hannah eagerly leaves retirement behind to take on this puzzle. With her husband, Lazi, recently deceased, Hannah will have to handle this case solo. Lazi left her a wealth of knowledge from his life as a police detective. But Hannah, as his assistant, is not without her own skills. So armed with a very keen mind, an ancient VW bug, and her husbands memory, this compelling grandmother vows to put a stop to the murders.

A first rate mystery from Anne K. Edwards! This talented author hypnotically weaves intrigue and suspense around an interesting cast of diverse characters. She gives readers a nasty villain who thinks he's gotten away with murder and you'll cheer Hannah on as she gets closer to uncovering the truth. "Death on Delivery" is only the first in the Hannah Clare series and I already can't wait for her next exciting case.
Reviewed by Tracy Marsac for

Hannah Clare, an intelligent if physically unassuming woman, has been in retirement since the death of her business partner and husband, Lazi. Together they had run a private investigative agency which Hannah turned over to Brom Cole, a young associate they had hired in recent years. Hannah has lived with her daughter and her family since Lazi's death, enjoying time with her small grandson, but is now itching for activity more robust than watching TV.

Hannah's habit of reading the obituaries each day brought a puzzle; recently she has noticed the deaths of four young women, each from unexplained causes. This most recent death piques both her curiosity and her detective instincts. A phone call to Brom, who reveals he could use her help, and Hannah is right back in the thick of things. What follows is an intriguing tale of murder and lives changed forever.

Ms. Edwards does a good job of interweaving the character's lives and the book flows nicely from one event to the next, taking the reader on a thrilling journey. The choice of a mid-life, overweight woman for the story heroine is a good one. This book is a very enjoyable read, and the suspense and drama carry through to the final chapter.
Reviewed by Deb Jones for Round Table Reviews

Dirty deeds aren't being done so cheap any more, just ask Ted Yewbanks how much it cost to have his wife sent to the choir invisible. The price, to be certain, is a mere drop in the bucket compared to Ted's freedom, which he earnestly desires more than anything. Well, freedom and money are actually tied on his list.

Perception, however, is not exactly a priority of Teds, for it appears a number of people in town have taken an interest in his recent widowerhood without his knowledge. Nosy neighbor, Freda Wartel, sees Ted's change in marital status as the perfect opportunity to be free of her demanding invalid aunt and her sloth of a cousin; if only her perception of Ted's loathe towards her were more evident. Retired detective, Hannah Clare, meanwhile, sees the opportunity to get back in the game. She goes undercover as a maid to determine the truth behind Jania Yewbanks' death...
Reviewed by Kathryn Lively, author of Murder Most Trivial

When local society matron, Jania Yewbanks, dies of "natural causes", her sister contracts the services of Brom Investigations to look into the case and prove that Jania's husband, Ted, murdered her.

Hannah Clare, widow of Brom's ex-partner, cannot settle to be the adoring granny. A sharp mind with a taste for danger, she needs work and action. Knowing her for twenty-four years and seeing her so eager to get back to work, Brom brings her into the case. Ted Yewbanks, now widowed and living alone, needs a housekeeper, and what better person than Hannah to take the job?

Then, in the midst of her investigations, Brom dies for no apparent reason. Stunned, Hannah realizes his death resembles that of Jania's. Something strange and evil is working its way into this small community. During the last few months there have been other unexplained, naturally caused deaths and this fact hasn't escaped Hannah's sharp eyes. Are they all murders?

...The characterization in this mystery really stands out. The minor characters are as complex, interesting, and carefully drawn as the main ones. With an excellent understanding of human behavior and motivations, this author has succeeded in creating a deftly crafted, classic suspenseful mystery that will keep you submerged from beginning to end. The climax made my heart race.

Hannah is certainly a character with her no-nonsense, practical, tough yet sensitive and compassionate approach to life and I look forward to reading more of her future adventures.
Reviewed by Mayra Calvani, author of Dark Hunger, for Midwest Book Review.

There are a lot of mystery readers -- particularly fans of cozies and who-done-its -- who tend to be put off by novels in which the murderer is revealed early in the book. In Anne K. Edward’s new mystery, Death on Delivery, we get the murder of Jania Yewbanks on page two, and we learn that her husband Ted “done it” -- or, more accurately put, had it done -- on page four. But to the aforementioned readers I say: do not despair. There is plenty more for you to figure out in this absolutely captivating mystery.

Hannah Clare is an older middle aged woman who lost her beloved husband Lazi some five months prior to the opening of the novel. Lazi, his partner Brom Cole, and Hannah operated a private detective agency and when Lazi died “in harness” Hannah decided that she should retire since there seemed to be no point continuing with her career without her husband. She moves in with her grown daughter Carole, her husband and young grandson and, five months later, finds herself climbing the walls. She loves them all dearly, of course, but if those five months have taught her anything, it is that retirement is boring. Against her worrying daughter’s wishes, she goes back to the agency and tells the remaining partner, Brom Cole, that she wants back in. Cole is only too happy to have her, and immediately assigns her to investigate the death of Jania Yewbanks.

To almost everyone -- including the police -- it appears that Jania Yewbanks died of natural causes. Jania’s sister however, Leah Willis, doesn’t believe that for a second and is sure that Ted Yewbanks murdered her somehow. After the police close the case, Leah hires the agency to prove that Ted is a murderer, and Cole arranges for Hannah Clare to be hired as a domestic for the newly single Mr. Yewbanks. Something about the case bothers Hannah right from the start ... the idea of a healthy thirty-three year old woman simply dropping dead of heart and respiratory failure for no apparent reason seems to be a lot like several other deaths of the same nature that have occurred in the area in recent months. Still, as Hannah is forced to tell the client a few days after starting her investigation, the odds are pretty slim that she will be able to prove murder. Ted Yewbanks is self centered, arrogant and unpleasant, but that doesn’t make him a killer. But a few days later, when Leah Willis herself is run down in the street and killed, Hannah becomes convinced that there is more to both deaths than meets the eye. And the body count doesn’t stop there.

There are a few things about Death on Delivery that really appealed to this reviewer. First off, this novel is very richly peopled -- there are a lot of characters between these pages -- and yet Ms. Edwards deftly and effectively manages to make each and every one of them memorable and unique. These characters are effective and believable because Ms. Edwards has made them all so human. The people between the covers of this book are the people you live next door to, or meet at the store, or pass on the street. Sure, each of them have things about them that isn’t the norm -- and which, in effect, is what makes them fascinating -- but there are no super models or twisted evil-for-the-sake-of-evil villains or detectives-with-all-the-answers in here. These characters work because Ms. Edwards has chosen to present them simply as real people, living somewhat unreal lives. They do the things anybody else might do given a certain set of circumstances, and for the same reasons. Also, there are several subplots going on in this book (particularly those involving Ted Yewbanks’ nosy neighbor Freda Wartel) which the author expertly integrates throughout the story and finally brings all together at the end. This is no small task, considering both the complexity of the subplots (very) and the length of the novel (around 80,000 words) and yet nothing seems forced or contrived. While writing with a remarkable economy of words, Ms. Edwards nonetheless tells this story both completely and very satisfyingly.

What most impressed this reviewer, however, was Ms. Edwards’ main character, Hannah Clare. Unlike many of the stereotypical female private detectives being offered mystery readers these days (late 20’s or early 30’s, cutely incompetent but looks great in a thong) Hannah is competent, capable, and very real. She is older, she is overweight, she chain smokes (and is trying to quit), she loves her family and friends, she never has all the answers and she desperately misses her late husband. This last touch is handled gently, and Ms. Edwards manages to convey the ongoing feeling of grief and sense of loss Hannah struggles against every minute of every day without beating the reader over the head with it. Most importantly, Hannah Clare is a seasoned professional who has been a detective for a long time, and is very good at her job. While the amateurs out there are fun to read about sometimes, it is nice to read about a pro who is treated like a pro by her creator.

Death on Delivery is the first in what we are assured will be a series of Hannah Clare mystery novels. This reviewer is certainly awaiting the next installment of this series, and is happy to give this debut novel his highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Rob Holden for

Thirty-three-year-old Jania Yewbanks is called away from her housework to answer the door. She accepts a delivery and lets her curiosity get the best of her. Within the small blue box is a set of pearl earrings in crushed gray velour. She put the earrings on believing her husband bought them for his secretary. Jania sees something unusual on them, but ignores it. But death you cant ignore. Her husband comes home from work and plays the concerned husband as he calls 9-1-1.

As Hannah Clare reads through the "Ladies Daily" she recognizes the photo of Jania Yewbanks in the obituary section. She realizes that at least four local women in the last year have died and it isnt because of old age. Hannah is a recent retiree who misses the challenge of investigations. For years, she helped her husband solve cases, but now he's dead and Brom Cole has taken over the detective agency. Being an investigator at heart, Hannah drives over to the Yewbank's home and checks out the neighborhood. On her mind, while she's watching a nosy neighbor, is how Mrs. Yewbanks might fit into a pattern of unexplained deaths.

Ted Yewbanks comes home to dust everywhere, but at least his wife isn't around any longer spending all his hard earned money. Things will change when the employment agency sends over a cleaning lady and down the line there's the $300,000 life insurance policy, the only descent thing his recently deceased wife has left him.

Yewbank's neighbor, Freda, is past her prime and is living an inescapable life of serving her disabled aunt and lazy cousin. The answer to all her problems could be an ad in the Ladies Daily. Yes, she is looking for a quick, no evidence left behind solution.

Freda isn't the only one with big problems. In his sixth floor office, Brom Cole is working on the cases Hannah's husband would have turned down. Cases that put his life on the line. There's one though that might help pay a few bills. Jania Yewbank's sister is dead certain that Jania's husband killed her, but she needs Cole's agency to prove it. Hannah volunteers to play the role of housekeeper, an easy in to Yewbanks home.

DEATH ON DELIVERY is a clever mix of suspense and contemporary issues. It taps into one's need for a quick solution to a frustrating problem. It reminds us that one's dependence on another can make their life a living hell. That you can reach a breaking point naïve to the consequences. Also, that retirement isn't an option for those who still can make a difference in the community. More power to you, Hannah. You're something else.

Four and a half delivery trucks out of 5

Reviewed by Denise Fleischer for

Reading the obituaries is a favorite pastime of widow and retired partner in the Lazlo Clare detective agency, Hannah Clare. An overweight, chain-smoking woman living with her concerned daughter and family, Hannah's passion for solving mysteries is stirred to life when she reads of the fourth unexplained murder this year in the pages of Penn Crossing's rag, The Ladies Daily. Against the protests of her daughter, Hannah makes a call to Brom Cole of Cole Investigations (formerly Lazlo Clare's agency) and soon finds herself in the guise of a cleaning woman doing what she does best -- putting the pieces of a puzzle together. Hannah alternately cleans, takes cigarette breaks, fights with the driver seat of her little VW bug and searches for clues as she looks into the mysterious death of thirty-something Penn Crossing socialite, Jania Yewbanks. Tom Yewbanks has no redeeming qualities that Hannah can find, but his nosy spinster neighbor, Freda Wartel, thinks differently. Mentally beaten down by unappreciative family members, Freda's obsession with the newly-widowed Yewbanks grows--and so do the number of deaths in the little community.

As Hannah confides her 'finds' to friends on the police department, she makes a horrifying discovery of her own, one that may link all of the unexplained deaths...and lead to her own! If she doesn't die from a nicotine craving first!

I absolutely love this book. It takes a chapter or two to get through the cigarette smoke to find yourself admiring this older woman who learns to live without her partner/husband with the help of a doting daughter and son-in-law. She morphs from a sad widow to an assertive, capable older woman who deals with difficulties the rest of us deal with on a daily basis...oppressive heat that has you sticking to vinyl car seats; tugging on a skirt that's ridden up your thighs due to weight gain and trying to conquer a life-long nicotine addiction.

Hannah Clare is a lovable, believable protagonist who babysits her grandson, drinks too much coffee and overcomes personal tragedy with the determination, if not the grace, of Jessica Fletcher.

Anne K. Edwards has the start of a wonderful series in Hannah Clare. Her characters, both good and bad, will remind you of folks you know. A clever plot with engrossing subplots, twists and turns, all brought to a satisfying end will leave you eagerly awaiting her next book.

Reviewed by Ingrid Taylor for Small Press Review.

Anne K. Edwards introduces us to Hannah Clare, a recently widowed PI coming out of retirement to work for the agency her late husband once owned. Why? In the first scene, shrill trophy wife Jania Yewbanks receives a package in the mail, two earrings which she can't resist trying on. The earrings are tipped with a greenish substance that immediately kills her. Her husband Ted comes home in time to witness her death and gleefully assumes the role of mourning husband.

The trouble is that his sister-in-law ain't buying it. She hires the agency to look into the matter just as Hannah decides to go back to work. Brom Cole, who now runs the agency, puts her undercover as a frumpy cleaning lady. Complicating matters is Freda, the nosy next door neighbor with an obsessive crush on Yewbanks. Between Hannah, Freda, and Yewbanks, the story is split three ways, with all three characters on a violent collision course with a mail-order murder-for-hire racket.

...Hannah Clare is a finely drawn protagonist. Imagine if Kinsey Milhonne had married Deitz in G Is for Gumshoe and settled down into some softboiled adventures and the standard 2.5 kids. She even drives a Beetle, though it's grey rather than Kinsey's garish yellow. Hannah is believable as someone used to dealing with the hazards of private investigation, and goes back to work to the chagrin of her daugher and son-in-law. She's a doting grandmother who chain smokes and packs a gun.

Freda is the character that shines the most in this tale. She's trapped in virtual slavery to her invalid aunt and her lazy cousin, who delights in causing trouble between the two. When Yewbanks is suddenly a bachelor again, Freda sees a way out and schemes to become the new Mrs. Yewbanks.

...Edwards keeps a lot of balls in the air, juggling a supporting cast and three major subplots. Eventually, they weave into a single plot, and at that point does the violence and suspense escalate....
Reviewed by James R. Winter for Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine (FMAM)




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